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Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Aurora and Santa hunter

As a child, Santa didn't play a huge role in my culture. As children, we did leave out stockings but when they didn't get filled, we stopped believing. Little did i know that Santa really 'exists'. I was told by a Finnish friend it's a full-time job for one in the Arctic Circle in Lapland

Also, there is the chance of the aurora.

So like a storm chaser, I assumed the unofficial aurora and santa hunter this season.

I've never hunted any kind of animal before (except men), but common sense tells me one would need patience. If a treacherous  journey is involved, it will make the story more worthwhile telling. 

Ivalo was a nearer airport to Kakalauttanen but I chose to fly into Rovienami with Finnair. The metro bus line passes through the airport directly to Kaklausttanen and is 3 hours.
Rovienami airport is like a dead town.
Go to the info counter and help yourself to a free passport stamp.
Day 1, 2030 hours:
The last bus scheduled at 2018 hours was late. I was anxious when i didn't see it rumbling towards me at scheduled time. I was afraid to be left stranded at the empty airport. Surely Santa's not gonna be here to comfort me. 

2400 hours: Its -20 but the people are filled with warmth. From the bus driver to Hotel Kakslauttanen's Jia Yi who waited for me past midnight for my arrival. Pushing my lugguage on a sleigh in 3 meters snow, i reached glass igloo 5.

If you wear glasses like me, it is best to have opti-fog lenses. Heaving my own lugguage created lots of heavy breathing that fogged up my glasses.
Self-serve/ carry luggage to accommodation on a sleigh is part of the experience
0030 hours: I set my alarm for 2.30am after hearing there has been aurora sighting the last two nights. The first was at midnight, the second at 4am. 2.30 seemed like a good in between. I turned in for the night without my regular before-bed shower. Igloo guests use a communal shower 5 mins away and it was -20 outside. My igloo was basic but warm and inviting. The floor is lined with rugs, and the double layered bed is covered with a zebra print over-throw decorated with red & black cushions. The toilet has a very low sink and while you can't shower inside, the detachable bassinet shower head was handy. A taste of living in an igloo structure without the cold as temperatures are kept at a optimal 24 degrees.
0230 hours: My alarm went off, i only had to open my eyes, look through the roof to see it was cloudy outside. A cloudy sky meant no chance of aurora occurence, I went back to sleep. 

Day 2, 0800 hours: my eyes fluttered open, above me i saw dawn breaking in the distance. The sky's colours are of nothing i've seen before. Pastel purple, pink and baby blue make the colours of day in the Artic Circle. My below-par Ixus could not capture this & i could only make a mental snapshot.
The steep price of my igloo was for this reason, i don't miss neither waking nor ending moment of the Artic sky. With 95% of its structure transparent, you trade privacy. There are mini curtains placed at the lower end so that when you lie down on bed, you won't have village creeps peering at you. However, if you stand, you'll be seen. I've seen my neighbours half naked & i'll know when they visit the bathroom (you only see shadows in the bathroom). 

I wonder if a couple has sex in the glass igloo, will they breach the Sexual Offences Act or Public Order Act? Only one way to find out. 
0900 hours: Breakfast is served at the main building. It is very simple with yogurt, hard boiled eggs, bread & a variety of herrings offered. The traditional Finnish pastry made of milk and sticky rice is exceptionally good, especially when warm. 

1015 hours: I signed up for a husky safari. As a dog lover, this was my favourite part. These Alaskan Huskies are working dogs. The farm owners explained immediately, dispersing our doubts when my eyebrow raised at the scrawny dogs. As i interacted with the dogs, i realize how much they love to run and pull the sleigh. They were buzzing with so much excitement, howling and revving to go. Tugging at the sleigh violently, they can't wait to transport me.
As i was a lone rider, i got to drive the sleigh throughout the 2 hour tour in the unspoiled snow forest. Full gear was provided for the safari, to wear on top of our existing coat for warmth. Ice formed in my hair, my hands and feet went numb but the experience was worthwhile. 
I weigh 48kg and i had 4 dogs in my team. At times, the scrawny dogs are strong enough to keep my wooden sleigh moving despite me jumping hard on the brake and putting my entire weight on it. 
Clinged on for my dear life. 

There are also reindeer sleigh rides, but i heard they are more sedated than the huskies. I am kind of ignorant, i did not know that reindeers are real. I had always thought they were make-believe because of Santa. 
Here they are, but without a red nose.

Day 2, 1300 hours: I explored the grounds of Kakslauttanen, in the distance, i hear the huskies howling. Everything was white, the air was dry and still. Skincare should be brought in creams and not lotion as the plastic bottles may crack. I went around for a photo shoot. The aurora temple on hotel grounds weren't anything spectacular. At 5pm, i went to the communal shower and sauna to kill time.
2000 hours: On my second night, i re-thought my aurora strategy. I downloaded the aurora sighting app but it needed 3G to get aurora alarms. There is no wifi in the glass igloo.

I realised i would miss the aurora if i slept through the night. Waking up intermittedly was not the strategy to catch an aurora. So i plotted to sleep at 8pm, wake up at 11pm and keep the midnight watch till 4am. And that's what i did. My alarm rang at 11pm, i dragged myself out of bed and did 90 mins of yoga under the stars in my glass igloo. Then i snacked on fruits and watched 2 movies. By 4am, there was still no aurora. I went to bed defeated.

Drowned my sorrows with reindeer piss. This is an alcoholic cocktail with meat bouillion.

Day 3: Disappointed i didn't catch the aurora despite splurging on an expensive igloo, i caught the 3 hour back to Rovienami city center. I had 2 more nights to catch the aurora.

Hotel Sky Ounasvaara had an aurora special where the hotel stay comes with an amazing dinner, breakfast, aurora alarms and a private sauna!
Private sauna in bathroom
Reindeer meat tastes gamey. Not my cup of tea.

The aurora 'alarm' comes in the form of an old-school Nokia phone!

If you receive a message, you immediately jump out and up the hotel's rooftop (3 storeys high).
Wear something to sleep that is convenient to jump out into the cold if your Nokia beeps. I really felt like i'm a soldier on standby.

Day 4: Still no aurora sighting, i went to Santa's Village.
At his village, you can find Santa in a chamber. Along the magic corridor, you will see his special boots which he needs when crossing marshlands and also a device, several meters long, to lower presents down the chimney. You feel like you walked into the insides of a clock, representative of Santa's secret abilitiy to control the clock- slow down the passing of time.
Take a picture with Santa for EUR 20
You can remember the Meet-Santa experience on USB for EUR 38

I am tickled by the fact that people around the globe sends letters to Santa. Every post office knows the address to forward to even if you just wrote 'Santa' on the envelope.
However, the correct address to write is 
Santa Claus,
96930 Arctic Circle. 
And the magic coordinates of the Arctic Circle are 66'33'07". Santa's post office receives about half a million letters annually and some 40K gets hand picked to be replied to by Santa himself. When i visited, one of the elves told me there has been 5 from Singapore that week. Yes, there are 'elves' working in the post office. It would have been totally awesome if midgets were employed, but that could be touche to some. 
Notable letters that reach Santa makes it to the Wall of Fame.
This elf is new on the job, while another elf i've met have been on the job for 10 years.
If like a needy kid, you want to guarantee a reply from Santa, you can pay EUR 7 for a reply.

Otherwise, when you are at the post office, you can send out postcards that will be stamped with the special Arctic Circle postmark. 
I don't know how it became a universal idea where everyone sends their pacifiers to Santa for his baby elves and baby reindeers when they outgew them. 
Santa's Village's only highlight is the post office. The more interesting one would be Santa's Park, which is like a theme park without rides. I didn't get to go as it was closed while i was there. 
Surviving in -20 degrees wasn't too difficult. Shopping on helped, with the wide array of jackets, scarf, boots and woolen tops. I wore thermal as a base layer, then ski pants, a woolen top, a fleece scarf, ski gloves, down jacket and a snow cap. 

On my last night, i signed up spontaneously for an aurora hunting tour.

And guess what? I did see an aurora in the end.


zzzzz said...

Hi, can you share your finland itinerary?

Anonymous said...

heya, the itinerary is as what i posted. the links and hotel names are all there. i didn't mention the tour agencies as i just booked them from the resorts.

Anonymous said...

hi, how many days were you in finland? was it very cold?


Xtine said...

I stayed 5 days 4 nights. It was -20 but w the right attire, bearable! My fingers and toes were freezing all the time tho. Well equipped boots and gloves def needed.

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